SHAFAQNA – Saudi Arabia was recently elected to the 54-member United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, drawing the ire of many commenters and watchdogs alike.
The CSW is about “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women,” its website says.
The secret ballot, which was held last week by the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), will grant the kingdom a four-year term, from 2018 to 2022, among the Asia-Pacific States.
UN Watch, a human rights organization that monitors the performance of the UN, condemned the decision citing the guardianship system that is currently in place in the kingdom alongside other current practices governing the lives of women in Saudi Arabia.
“Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death. Saudi Arabia also bans women from driving cars,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch chief, in a statement.
“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief. It’s absurd,” Neuer added.
The kingdom will now play a vital role in “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”
At least 15 countries voted in favor of the decision
Twelve other countries were also elected by the council in Geneva including Algeria, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Turkmenistan, Ecuador, Haiti and Nicaragua.
But, people on Twitter weren’t too happy to see Saudi Arabia on the list of newly appointed members.
One Saudi woman expressed her disappointment on Twitter, saying the decision feels “like betrayal”
Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia
Although Saudi Arabia has been faced with criticism for denying its women the right to drive (among many other things), it has been enforcing change in different areas, albeit slowly.
In 2015, women were granted the right to vote and to participate in municipal elections. Some 18 women won in elections across the kingdom the same year, as Saudi women cast their ballots for the first time in modern history.
In the past couple years, women have been granted significantly more power, dealing blows to the kingdom’s traditional guardianship system.
Women are now required to verbally give their consent before marrying and are also required to receive a copy of their marriage certificate. The Saudi Shura Council also announced a possible amendment to laws governing travel documents, which may give women the right to obtain a passport without male permission.
Since 2013, at least 30 of the kingdom’s 150 Shura Council members have been women. Although the body is not democratically elected, with the members appointed by the king, the legislative body has a higher percentage of women than many other countries, including the U.S.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the mastermind behind the kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030, has pushed for easing conservative laws regarding women. The 2030 plan highlights the importance of Saudi women to the kingdom’s future success.
Saudi women are fighting for change too – through art and music.
Women continue to demand that the male guardianship system be revoked.
The kingdom’s guardianship system prohibits women from traveling, marrying and working without the permission of a male guardian, typically her husband, father or brother.
The “I Am My Own Guardian” campaign has been ongoing for years, challenging the system currently in practice.
— Ms Saffaa (@MsSaffaa) August 2, 2016